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HindustanTimes Sun,23 Nov 2014

Critics' review: Prisoners is an acquired taste

Durga M Sengupta, Hindustantimes.com  New Delhi, September 27, 2013
First Published: 14:48 IST(27/9/2013) | Last Updated: 14:53 IST(27/9/2013)

Denis Villeneuve's Prisoners proves a point. That critics don't sit around exchanging notes on films. Prisoners is definitely impactful, for one, because every critic had something different to say about this one.

"Prisoners has heavy-duty arthouse pretensions but, if we’re being honest with each other, it’s really just a high-falutin’ B-grade kidnap thriller.
It’s got lofty aspirations but it also wants to wallow in the muck — to thrill you and sicken you in equal measure while also being About Something. But if you strip away the pedigree of the people involved in front of and behind the camera, what’s left is a twisty kidnap picture filled with all the obligatory creepy suspects, red herrings and icky imagery," writes Christy Lemire on her website.

Her review reeks of sarcasm. "You see? Everyone’s trapped. We’re all PRISONERS. It’s very profound."

David Thomson takes it a step further and makes his lack-of-love for the film quite obvious. "Prisoners is hideous, cruel, degrading, depressing, relentless, prolonged, humorless, claustrophobic, and a mockery of any surviving tradition in which films are entertaining. And 153 minutes," writes Thomson in The New Republic.

Oh but he's not done yet. Thomson explains why he hated the film.

"I hate it for its subject matter and the dead-eyed way it is treated. Not that I have any right to deplore or attack American films because they are as drawn to such subjects as vultures are to corpses in the desert. Anyone has a right to try to turn a buck, and as torture becomes more common we have to think of job opportunities. Prisoners played at Toronto and Telluride and it has had some positive reviews. My feeling about it is not just a matter of finding it good or dreadful. It’s more that periodically a film critic asks whether our culture can go on and on with these ordeals without having them sink into our nervous system."

Fair enough.

However, there are those who like the film.

"On the face of things, this star-driven, English-language endeavor might seem like one of those bad leaps good directors feel forced to make. Not on your life, it turns out," notes Lisa Kennedy in The Denver Post.

"Will there be redemption, retribution? Prisoners asks again and again, and brilliantly withholds those answers until the very end," she adds.

Jocelyn Noveck appreciates the film for its hardy performances in The Huffington Post. " (Hugh) Jackman, we all know, is not only talented but so darned likable that it's hard for him to break out of that ever-charming persona. But here, in some of his best work to date, he manages it – and surpasses last year's Oscar-nominated performance in Les Miserables – as a grief-stricken, panicked father who succumbs to his basest impulses in a race to find his young daughter's captors."

That's quite the compliment, eh?

"And Gyllenhaal, in a less flashy but just as compelling performance, brings new depth to the well-worn role of brooding, driven detective. To the film's credit, we don't get much backstory on this character. A few small hints are all we need; the actor's textured performance does the rest," Noveck adds flatteringly.


While some feel the torture scenes in the film are torturous, Peter Rainer feels otherwise. They "reminded me of nothing so much as “Zero Dark Thirty,” and that’s probably not entirely accidental. By taking torture out of the political realm and into the family homestead, Villeneuve wants us to know that there are no havens anymore. The crazies are everywhere," Rainer writes in the CS Monitor.

Point duly noted.

Christopher Orr sees the film for what it is, the good bits and the bad bits included.

"On the one hand, Prisoners is an extremely well-wrought production, boasting a strong cast (also featuring Melissa Leo) and pushing the moral questions it raises--about vengeance and vigilantism, guilt and innocence, the line between victim and perpetrator--well beyond the comfort zone of the typical Hollywood product.

And yet ...

For all the film's craftsmanship, it's hard to shake the sense that there is a fundamental mismatch between the genuine horrors that open the film (the missing children, the anguished parents) and the more conventionally cinematic ones that close it," writes Orr in The Atlantic.

Well, well. The critics didn't help much on this one, did they?

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